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Last Man Standing    by David Baldacci order for
Last Man Standing
by David Baldacci
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Don't start Last Man Standing in the evening if you need to get some sleep before morning. It's a tough and entertaining read with galloping action and credible, engaging characters. Web London is an FBI special agent, an élite member of its Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). As the story starts, a simple operation in 'a combat zone masquerading as a neighborhood' aimed at a building containing the 'entire financial guts of a major drug operation' turns into a deadly trap. Web is the sole member of Charlie Team to survive, and only because he inexplicably freezes after meeting a small shirtless boy who pipes up with 'Damn to hell' - the boy disappears shortly afterwards.

Watching helplessly while the rest of his team is slaughtered, Web feels guilt and shame. The head of the FBI Washington field office is ready and willing to make him a scapegoat (with a big assist from the media) but his superior Perce Bates goes to bat for him. Web investigates, crossing paths with the undercover agent who originally supplied the tip for the drug raid, and the crime czar who is also the brother / father of the shirtless boy. There are links back to a previous operation against a white supremacist group, the Frees, in which a boy hostage was killed. Various people involved in prosecution of the Frees are murdered. Web and longstanding rival Paulie Romano provide protection for the parents of that dead hostage on their property in Virginia horse country.

At the same time, Web has consulted a psychiatrist for help in dealing with his feelings, and the attractive Claire Daniels begins to uncover issues from his childhood - a criminal father and an abusive stepfather - and to move into the danger zone herself. The author lays out a sophisticated web of deception, which he unravels slowly, laying traps to entangle the reader along the way. The story is gripping, but even so I lingered to admire the author's verbiage. He sums up characters and locations in searing sentences. For example a blustering desk man is 'an elephant without tusks, just about ready to drop and die and become dinner for the jungle carnivores.' A slum area 'looked like a reactor had been hemorrhaging nearby for a few decades.'

Discussing his feelings about killing terrorists, Web says they 'could claim all the geopolitical oppression in the world, call upon all the grand and omniscient deities in their religious warehouses, make every half-assed justification they wanted to, so they could detonate their bombs and fire their weapons, and none of that meant a damn thing to Web when they started killing innocent people, and in particular kids.' This sentence alone should propel Last Man Standing to the top of the bestseller lists. Don't miss this mucho macho tale of mystery and mayhem.

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